Thursday, January 26, 2006

Unschooling conference

For a while now, I've been wanting to blog about the meeting we attended in November, organised by the Bundesverband Natürlich Lernen, a German Unschoolers' organisation. It was an incredibly inspiring weekend for me.

The highlights were hearing Pat Montgomery, founder of Clonlara School, and Andre Stern, a grown-up unschooler, address the meeting. Pat spoke about the problems that homeschoolers faced in the USA when she founded her school, and how they mirrored what we are experiencing in Germany today. She spoke on the subject of civil disobedience, saying that many people she had spoken to during her stay in Germany were totally against doing anything that was against the law. Their inclination was rather to fight for permission from the authorities, even if this was likely to prove unsuccessful.

Pat maintained, on the other hand, that by asking for permission (which would in most cases not be given) German homeschoolers are just putting themselves at the mercy of the arbitrariness of the authorities and of the unfair and inhumane schooling laws.. She said that each family had to do what it felt was the right thing, but if staying underground helped that family to a contented unschooling existence, then that was the right thing for them to do. Andre Stern made the same point when asked how it could be possible for us beleagured parents to give our children the idyllic unschooling experience he had as a child in Paris. His reply was to do stay underground if necessary.

I can understand the argument for going against the authorities and fighting for our rights. But as one who has been following the underground route for the last year, I can tell you that I don't miss the palpitations that come with the first method. Unfortunately it isn't easy to stay under the radar in Germany. They haf vays und means of finding out about your children, one of which is through the law requiring every person resident here to be registered at their local authority. But hey, I reckon, if you're breaking one law, you might as well go ahead and break a couple more.

Those of us who are not registered are no worse than those people I know who register one spouse and the children in a different town, so they can attend the school there instead of the crappy one in their home town. There is also the added complication of whether people whose children are not officially resident in Germany can claim child benefit payments, but the pragmatist can add up the cost of legal battles, fines and the emotional cost of tussling with the authorities and maybe choose to forego the child benefit.

My point here is that I think more people will choose homeschooling if they can do it quietly and remain unbothered by the authorities. If many families choose that route, then maybe by the time they are discovered, the authorities will be overwhelmed by the wave of homeschoolers.


Carlotta said...

Re: civil disobedience and staying sub rosa as regards home educating, or whether to submit and then object and lobby for change..Am finding this a very difficult call right now here in the UK, where many of us who have been unknown the authorities are now facing effective compulsory registration for the first time; this as a result of the introduction of the Children's Database and the Children Missing from Education initiative.

Still cannot make that call to my own satisfaction. I would love to simply ignore the authorities, but am anxious that this will compromise the way they treat us when the database does throw us up as missing from their conception of education.

Will follow your situation with interest!

scatty said...

This is an issue for many homeschooling families, especially those who don't want to comply with unreasonable requirements and being subjected to the arbitrary whims of the personal responsible for allowing them to homeschool.

In South Africa, most homeschoolers are not registered as such. They maintain that the requirements for homeschoolers are so stringent that they represent an obstacle to registration. The majority of the provisions and procedures (of the homeschooling section of the Education Act) for home education are pedagogically controversial or
vulnerable in terms of administrative or public law and/or have been found to be unjustifiable and therefore
illegal in South African or foreign court verdicts. Every one of these unlawful provisions and procedures
constitute obstacles to registration and therefore establish “just cause” (in not registering).

I also know of homeschoolers in some American states who are unregistered homeschoolers.